Christmas used to be a big deal for me, for all the obvious reasons, more drinking, more eating, gift giving and receiving and time spent with family (which would inevitably lead to more drinking). As I was growing up my family’s tradition for many years was a gathering on Christmas Eve, a big dinner, and then gift opening. On Christmas day my mother and I would go to a movie and then Chinese food, which was my favorite! As all of us kids grew older gift giving got smaller, the reality of economics. There was no pretending for us any more, we were all trying to make a living, and we needed to make Christmas more special for the now new little ones in our mists. Remember the first time you realized on your own you were too old to go trick or treating? instead you graduate to chaperone. Hard pill to swallow and now for Christmas you’re no longer sitting at the kids table which you felt as though you didn’t belong in the first place, but with that rite of passage come sacrifice. You’re a big kid now. Forever.
As a consequence of growing older things start changing. First it was my Uncle who died suddenly, and then it was my aunt who fell and shattered her hip and was changed forever, but then my niece moved away, and my mother began to show severe signs of Alzheimer's, finally I moved away and then my sister was diagnosed with cancer and passed two years after my mother. The drama of making it a “normal” Christmas became unbearable. Our family dynamic was thrown out of its orbit.
Returning home to be with my family became harder, financially yes, but to leave the farm during the winter became another great pillar of stress. The last time I was in Seattle for Christmas we had a blizzard in Oklahoma. Linda was alone on the farm and we ended up losing two of our bucks. It was our first winter on the farm and it was devastating. I vowed never to travel during these months. The trauma still haunts us. Most people who live in cities can’t imagine what living on a rural farm during a huge storm can be like. All of the animals, the power, the stress of losing everything, not a good time to travel.
When I moved to Oklahoma I tried to create my own Christmas tradition but it just wasn’t the same. It was empty, desperately lonely and joyless. So I gave up Christmas, even starting hating it, almost to the point of being an anti-theist. (that’s another story) When I met Linda things slowly shifted. I began looking at Christmas from a more spiritual contemplative point of view. We began our own tradition of spending Christmas Eve with friends who became our family, and Christmas day at the movies! For Linda and I, no more tree, or decorations, we generally don’t give gifts although a few gestures are made. The gift that we share is quiet, is loving and peaceful. Full of deep contemplation and finally yes Joy! This time of year is when we take a sacred inventory of how we’ve served, how we managed. More about Christ less about mas. Both of us have been on long personal journeys trying to make sense of it all.
Christmas is still hard for me, I won’t lie. I know I am loved and have wonderful people in my life and I’m so very happy for those around me celebrating each in their own way, but there is an undeniable emptiness within me where my mother, my aunt and my sister once took up residence. I know each of them are not physically with me, but are never the less a large part of me, I’m made from them. Blood, bone and spirit. But my craving for their words and touch are more pronounced now than any other time of the year. This is the beautiful and tragic consequence of having the privilege to grow older. I know now because of this, there are many others experiencing the same thing. During this time of the year many dear people in the world are struggling and everywhere they turn are reminded daily of their loss, their loneliness, while at the same time trying desperately to be cheerful and joyous.
I celebrate Christmas this year in the hopes that I and many others who share this common pain of loss and loneliness that we experience our own birth of grace, of faith and beauty beyond beauty, of compassion and understanding, of silence and serenity. As a time to take a refreshing plunge into all the gifts of friendships, the closest and even the most superficial, and offer refuge and comfort to anyone who needs it.